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What researchers have learned about why belly isn’t all bad

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Belly fat isn't all bad, find researchers; after all these years.

We have all been told belly fat is bad, especially when it comes to risk for a variety of diseases. But now researchers say not all belly fat is bad and that the omentum – a lining in the stomach that stores fat and is responsible for a typical looking ‘beer belly’ – actually plays a key role in regulating the immune system.

Fat doesn’t just sit around doing nothing

Makio Iwashima, PhD, professor in Loyola University’s Chicago Stritch School of Medicine is corresponding author of the study published this month in PloS ONE.

He explains in a news release that fat stored in the omentum, which covers most of the major organs, ”… is not just fat sitting in the belly."

Iwashima teamed up with Robert Love, MD, a world renowned lung transplant surgeon for the study. The researchers looked at the effect mouse omentum cells had on immune cells that attack bacteria and viruses, known as T-lymphocytes that were taken from a mouse.

When they exposed the omentum cells to T cells activated by antibodies, the T cells died. Cells in the omentum where belly fat is stored modulate the immune system by suppressing the response of T cells that attack foreign substances.

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The finding means possible new drug development that helps suppress the immune system without the side effect of current immunosuppressants given to transplant recipients who risk organ rejection.

The researchers also discovered the membrane that covers organs in the belly plays a role in repairing and regenerating damaged tissue.

It seems the fatty membrane in the belly does more than previously known. The new finding shows that belly fat isn’t all bad after all and plays an important role in immune function and healing. Other diseases that could be treated more effectively now that researchers understand that belly fat has a previously unknown function are lupus and Crohn's disease.


Shah S, Lowery E, Braun RK, Martin A, Huang N, et al. (2012) Cellular Basis of Tissue Regeneration by Omentum. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38368. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038368

Image credit:
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This page is updated on April 18, 2013.